First game column

I’m asked from time to time what my columns look like when they have to be filed the minute the buzzer sounds. I’ll add some notes to this later. But this is what I sent in 5 minutes ago. Shakespeare, it ain’t. Now I’ll take the next hour to rewrite and make it make sense . . .


There’s a certain shock value in the University of Kentucky basketball team starting a season 0-2.

It brings out a nation of roundball rubberneckers.

The Wildcats’ season-opening loss to Virginia Military Institute led ESPN’s Sportscenter. Their 77-58 loss to North Carolina last night had Dick Vitale bemoaning a lack of talent. Somebody at the Worldwide Leader last week referred to the program as “once proud.”

But beyond the pure carnage of two season-opening losses by a combined xx points, there’s still reason not to leave this team and program on the side of the road.

Not many UK teams start 0-2. Adolph Rupp never had one. But Joe B. Hall did, in 1975-76. That team featured these names: Jack Givens, Mike Phillips, James Lee, Rick Robey.

Tubby Smith had a team that started 0-2 back in 2000-01. That team featured these names: Keith Bogans, Tayshaun Prince, Jason Parker, Marquis Estill.

They were young teams. But they grew up.

I’m not saying the current roster includes names of the stature of those, though Patrick Patterson and Jodie Meeks might have something to say about that before they’re through.

What I am saying is that a bad start doesn’t necessarily mean a bad team.

When you strip away the ugly numbers, you see both reason for hope and problems that may well be obstacles for the Wildcats all season.

The point guard problem has to rank at the top. When you turn the ball over 17 times in a single half as the Wildcats did last night, there’s no other way to term it. Starting point guard Michael Porter had three turnovers. Backup DeAndre Liggins had just three in five minutes. Now, they were facing the nation’s best point guard in Ty Lawson, but you can already tell from two games and 53 turnovers that the Wildcats are missing a stabilizing force with the ball.

Last season, Derrick Jasper was such a force. This will be a tough problem to fix.

Of more temporary concern is the team’s temperament. This was not the nasty, physical, pounding UK team we saw last season, even though many of the same players are back. North Carolina freshman Tyler Zeller, at 220 pounds, was somehow able to back Patterson all the way to the rim.

The Wildcats gave up 25 points in the first 8 1/2 minutes.

But then they stiffened for a time. The Cats got a little tougher. They dictated tempo better. They stabilized a little. They began to find Patterson in the post. They began to do some of the things they did to rally last season. And they hung around.

But they never threatened because they didn’t keep it up. With 2 minutes to play Bobby Frasor drove the lane and made a layup while Meeks didn’t make a move to block or foul him. That’s not something Gillispie teams do. And probably not something that will continue for this team.

North Carolina is the No. 1 team in the nation for a reason. No matter how good UK gets this season, it won’t be good enough to handle the Heels. And the scariest thing on display last night wasn’t how good the Tar Heels are, but how good they are without Tyler Hansbrough and Marcus Ginyard.

No doubt, the nation will keep gawking at the 0-2 Wildcats. UK’s job is to get to work proving the start has looked worse than it really is.



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